Over 150 poor urban families were forcibly evicted from central Phnom Penh in Cambodia at the weekend. The vast majority of them have been left homeless.
Cambodian security forces and demolition workers carried out the evictions of 152 families from Dey Kraham community in the early hours of Saturday. At around 3am, an estimated 250 police, military police and workers hired by the company claiming to own the land blocked access to the community before dispersing the population with tear gas and threats of violence.
At 6am, excavators moved in and levelled the village. Some of the families were not able to retrieve belongings from their homes before the demolition. Officials from Phnom Penh municipality were present during the destruction.
Amnesty International called on the Cambodian authorities to stop denying people the right to housing and to ensure adequate compensation and restitution for those evicted on Saturday.
"The most urgent task now is for the government to immediately address the humanitarian needs of these people, who have lost their homes and face imminent food and water shortages," said Brittis Edman, Cambodia researcher for Amnesty International. "They will also need assistance for a long time to come."
The Phnom Penh municipality has provided less than 30 of the 152 families with shelter at a designated resettlement site at Cham Chao commune in Dangkor district, some 16 kilometres from the city centre. Most of the other structures at the site are still under construction and lack roofs.
There is no clean water, no electricity, sewage or basic services. Earlier, most of the affected community rejected being resettled there because it was too far from Phnom Penh, where they work, mostly as street vendors.
Since the forced eviction, the Dey Kraham community has been told that the company, which is alleged to have purchased the land, has withdrawn earlier offers of compensation, leaving families who have been living in uncertainty and insecurity for more than two years, now faced with rebuilding their lives with nothing.
Local authority representatives sold the land to the company, 7NG, in 2005 without the knowledge, participation or consultation with the affected community. Some 300 families were coerced into moving amid threats, harassment and intimidation, while the 152 families continued to dispute the validity of the sale and refused to give up the land without compensation.
Just over a week before the forced eviction, the affected community told the authorities and the company that they were willing to move if they received adequate compensation for the land. Many of them have lived there, uncontested, for decades and have strong claims to the land under the 2001 Land Law. The company then increased the offer of compensation, but the two sides had not yet reached an agreement.